UQ's refugee student makes her way to physiotherapy program

Shali Thevarasan was 12 when she, along with her parents and older brother, fled Sri-Lanka for a safer life in Australia.

While it was a relief to reach Australian shores, the University of Queensland physiotherapy student admits it was a huge adjustment.

We didn't know anyone, and my parents struggled while learning a new language. Thankfully, I had been taught English because I went to a convent school in Sri Lanka, so I was interpreting everything for them."

Shali Thevarasan, Refugee, The University of Queensland

"The major challenge for me was going straight into high school, because everything was digital, but back in Sri Lanka, everything was in paper form.

"I had to self-learn and watch YouTube videos to understand the concepts, so yeah, it was a bit tough."

With determination and hard work, the now 21-year-old graduated school with flying colors and is in her first year of the Bachelor of Physiotherapy (Hons) program, with the help of UQ's Refugee and Humanitarian Scholarship.

"UQ is a world-class university and the dedicated support it was providing to the refugee and temporary residents in Australia grabbed my attention," Ms Thevarasan said.

"I am very sure that I have made the right decision to study at UQ by accepting the scholarship offer."

Ms Thevarasan's tuition fees are paid for, she receives a stipend to cover living expenses, and resides on campus in the recently opened Kev Carmody House.

"Living on campus helped me make a lot of friends at UQ and I can get counseling support anytime that I need," she said.

"It's also a two-minute walk to the physiotherapy buildings and the University library is just around the corner, so you can go there and study anytime."

While Shali Thevarasan is loving her new life, she misses the friends and family that remain in Sri Lanka, especially her grandmother.

"I was very close to her, and we still talk once a week, but I miss her food. I even miss her yelling at me all the time," she laughed.

But she says doing the degree is the best thing that's ever happened her.

"I want to be a physiotherapist because I like helping people, and I like helping them to be active," Ms Thevarasan said.

"I see myself working in a hospital and helping people recover from surgery."

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